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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Adult Puppet Show

The Whimsical Denizens of Avenue Q

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How does a college graduate with a bachelor's degree in English greet the real world without any major skills or significant experience? That’s the scary next step facing Princeton (the man, not the college) in the whimsical musical Avenue Q, coming to Milwaukee’s Marcus Center next Tuesday for a week’s stay. No more sheltering dorm or 4 a.m. sessions in the computer lab the day the paper is due. Anxiety attacks and all, this spunky musical examines a graduate stepping into the big world at age 22; finding his place there and determining his purpose in life.

What is so unique about that? Princeton is played by a larger than life-size puppet! So are all his new neighbors and friends on Avenue Q.

It’s been called “Sesame Street for Adults.” However, Avenue Q would likely be rated a stiff PG-13 if this jollity gets filmed. Further, the Sesame Workshop has gone out of its way to disclaim any responsibility for this musical’s risqu content. None of this should detract from the distinction that Avenue Q still truly remains the “Little Musical That Could.”

With its Best Ensemble and Puppet Artistry award from New York’s Outer Critics Circle, Q moved to Broadway and knocked some socks off. Up against such outstanding competitors as Wicked, Tony Kushner’s Caroline, Or Change and The Boy from Oz, little ol’ Avenue Q walked off with Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Musical Book in 2004. It continues in ‘08 to fill 45th Street’s intimate Golden Theatre with delighted audiences. It will soon reach 1,900 continuous performances.

Gritty Street
Avenue Q exists outside the borough of Manhattan and is reserved for the “economically concerned.” So it’s not like snooty Avenues A, B, C and the others. At least gritty old Q is affordable for life’s beginners. Even better, it’s cheap.

Still, Avenue Q might as well be located out on a Montana prairie somewhere for all its cosmopolitan importance to the Big Apple. Seems like only dysfunctional residents congregate on Q, but at least they don’t play discomforting oneupmanship games like on A, B, C and the others. Rather it’s a game of one-downmanship, arguing whose life sucks the most. Wit prevails and surprises are provided by various plot twists that reveal which resident ultimately wins that dis- tinction, gloved puppet-hands down! This sassy show—with such characters as Lucy the Slut, Monsters Kate and Trekkie (no relation), slacker Nicky, the stuffy investment banker Rod, Brian the unemployed comedian—features more puppets than live performers to manipulate them. But somebody’s got to speak the award-winning lines and sing the clever, award-winning lyrics composed by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. The puppeteers are thus offered the unique opportunity to display the range of their own talents by working with more than one character. That’s swell because more than half of the puppeteers coming to Milwaukee have already appeared in the Broadway production.

In addition to “The Avenue Q Theme,” there are provocative musical numbers such as the rollicking, unforgivingly insistent “The Internet is for Porn,” “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist” and “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” (inspired years before the Britney Spears incident, thank you). One may understand why the Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop disclaim any relationship with lyrics dealing with such adult subjects as sex, racism, morality and love.

Well, maybe not love. Avenue Q’s puppet designer, Rick Lyon, acknowledges the inspiration and encouragement of the late Jim Henson. So if Rod and his roomie Nicky bear a faint resemblance to Ernie and Bert, know that the Henson heritage continues in one format or another.

Just remember: This puppet show is not for little kids. Feb. 26 - March 2 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, contact the Marcus Center’s box office, 273-7206.

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